Just to make sure he wasnt dreaming, Arlo closed his eyes once and opned them again.
Yup, the woman was still completely naked. Even the small patch of black curls, protecting the modesty of her sex, had not a scrap of covering. Quickly, Arlo removed his cloak and laid it across her body.
As Leilani approached the young woman's left side, patting her hand with worried eyes, Arlo shook his head. "Leilani, you've really outdone yourself this time," he muttered, then also bent down to the woman's side.
Admittedly, she was beautiful. Even with his cloak as cover, Arlo could tell the woman's waist was slender and her breasts small and perky. In fact, they were so perky, looking in that direction began to feel improper, so Arlo returned his gaze to her small face.
And what a pretty face it was too. The black hue of her hair in her long, sooty eyelashes looked as elegant against her pale skin as calligraphy on new parchment. Her lips were thinner than the women he usually preferred but there was a delicateness to them that seemed to suit her face like nothing else.
Arlo was so consumed with looking; he almost didn't notice Leilani tugging on his sleeve, perhaps wondering why her big brother had suddenly gone stiffer than the stuffed bear in their Fathers study.
'What am I doing?' he thought, frowning, 'She could be in a coma for all I know and here I am ogling her!' So shaking his head, Arlo set to waking the young woman up.
"Miss" he called, softly to start with as he gently shook her shoulder. "Miss, are you al…" he trailed off. 'Seriously Arlo? Of course she isn't alright, she's naked and unconscious for crying out loud.'
He groaned and rubbed his face, regretting his decision to come alone to the beach since now, the only other person with him was Leilani, and Arlo could hardly send a four-year-old up to the castle by herself to get help.
He snuck another glance at the woman and noticed that her face was streaked with dried tears. 'Perhaps she has survived a shipwreck?' he wondered ', perhaps she too, was the only survivor?'
His heart went out to her. "Miss" he said a little louder as he shook her shoulder again, "Please, wake up." His shaking seemed to do some good, as her eyelids twitched and flew open.
Arlo had to hold in a slight gasp as he was assaulted with the bluest eyes he'd ever seen. It wasn't the light blue you saw usually, her eyes were blue like the deepest stormy waters of the ocean, constantly shifting between hues of light and dark. Arlo's mouth went dry at the magnificence of them.
The woman blinked slowly, as if coming to terms with what she was seeing. Then her mouth stretched into a startlingly radiant smile, and her arms rose up to hook around his neck.
"Oaf" Arlo gasped, leaning forward on his arms so as not to all down she pulled herself up to bury her face in the crook his neck with the glee of someone embracing a friend they hadn't seen in years.
"Miss," Arlo coughed awkwardly, "I don't think that's appropria—" but he was cut off again by the force of her smile. It was so warm. Arlo's mouth went dry, "Uh…"
Then suddenly, her magnificent eyes rolled backwards, her arms went limp and she passed back into unconsciousness. Arlo reached out to catch her before her head could drop and collide with a rock.
As he stared down at her immobile body in his arms, he swallowed again and turned to his sister, who was sucking her thumb. "Leilani, you've really, really outdone yourself this time" he muttered. "So tell me, what do you think we should do with your newest find?"
Clever four-year-old that she was, Leilani pointed towards the castle.
"Yes, I suppose you're right" Arlo nodded, sighing deeply. "God, Mother is used to us bringing back half-dead crabs and fish from the beach, I think this'll be the first time we bring back a woman. Do you think she'll be ok with it?"
Leilani continued sucking her thumb, and Arlo nodded, "Yeah, I didn't think so either."
Gently, he hoisted the woman further into his arms, cradling her as if he were carrying Leilani to bed. Her head lolled against his chest and he got a whiff off seawater from her hair.
Then slowly, he, Leilani and their new friend made their way up the beach and back to the castle.
Lynn felt more than heart the niggling voice echoing in the corners of her mind, but her exhaustion was so great she was able to ignore it. Unfortunately, it seemed insistent.
'By the Tides this one can sleep' it snarled ', I said WAKE UP'
'Ahh!' Lynn's eyes snapped upon. Immediately, she rolled over, trying to avoid the sharp jab in her ribs she'd come to expect from her Ladies Maid or Older sisters who usually barked at her to get out of bed. But when the jab did not come, she paused and instead allowed the befuddlement to settle in.
This was not her designated room in the undersea palace. The bed was not made from woven sea-plants and scraps of human fabrics; instead it was made from a white material, thick as blubber but softer than the drifting downy feathers of seagulls. Lynn slid her fingers over and marvelled at the cool, smooth feel of it. 'It's like I'm sitting inside a giant, soft oyster' she remarked.
As her hands moved, Lynn began to notice a lack of drag in her movements. 'I'm not…' she waved her arms up and down, then gasped silently to realise there was no added weight from being under the sea, 'I'm on land!'
In realising this, the recent events spun a film of memory over her eyes. Lynn's heart began to speed up. With trembling fingers, she lifted the white material away from her bottom half. Taking in the image of two smooth appendages connected to her waist in place of a fish tail.
'Legs' she inwardly squealed, 'I've got legs!' her hands slid over the skin closest to her sex, she recognised it from an anatomy book and recalled a scholar had named it a 'thigh'. Slowly, Lynn slid her hand it further down to explore the rest of her leg. She fingered the harder joint where the thigh ended, 'This is a knee'. For a short time she admired another line of bone, 'This is a shin' before her fingers travelled to its underside, 'and this is the calf' she recited. Then Lynn's wondering fingers reached the part she recognised as the 'foot', and gingerly slid her fingertips across it's strange, rectangular shape. It began as a ball, 'heel', and ended in five even stranger shapes called 'toes'. Lynn knew every word by heart.
She gazed at her new legs with a reverence of a man who'd found meaning in his previously empty world. For years she'd studied legs, gazed at them on her human statues and traced each delicate curve, ignorant of the fact that cold stone didn't compare to the warmth of real legs. Without realising it, Lynn's eyes began to tear. 'They're so beautiful,' she thought, 'can they…really be mine?'
'Of all the questions you could ask,' a foreign voice echoed once again in her mind ", they're attached to you, aren't they? Of course they're yours! You Mermaids should all be very thankful you're renown for your pretty faces, and not for your complete lack of intelligence.'
Lynn froze at the familiarity of the voice. Light and course both at the same time, like to moment before a wave crashes to the shore. 'My…My Lord Sea-Mage?' she ventured.
'Witch' he spat in response, 'Unfortunately it's still Sea-Witch, not Mage. The title is millennia old and does not change simply because one is born with a cock, but you may continue to address me as Lord.'
Lynn's face curled at the crudeness of his words, quite unused to it as a princess. She turned her head around the fine room, but it was quite empty aside from her. 'I…I don't understand? Have you hidden yourself from my sight?'
'Are you really asking if I'm invisible?' he queried mockingly. 'As it happens, I'm speaking to you from my cave and before you ask 'How', because I have no patience for mermaid curiosity, recall that you gave me your voice. Don't you know the legends warning against giving a part of yourself to the Sea-witch, because then she'll have a direct link to you?'
'That's real?' Lynn's eyes widened, 'I always thought that was a myth.'
'No, it's very real' he responded. 'I don't use the power often, but in this case I found the ability necessarily useful. Now, back to topic on hand, where are you?'
'You don't know?' Lynn began rubbing her temple in an attempt to sooth the splitting headache that was building.
'I can speak to you through your thoughts,' he snapped ', I can't see through your eyes.'
Lynn closed her eyes and tried to remember but it only increased her headache, 'I'm…actually, I'm not too sure. I don't remember much beyond the serpent Sorianth depositing me upon land. I think I passed out after that.'
'Stupid wench, I told you, go to shore before drinking!'
Lynn grimaced, and bowed her head shamefully 'I'm sorry'
The Witch went quiet. Perhaps he hadn't expected her to agree with him. Unfortunately, he quickly retrieved his scornful vigour. 'I should have traded your potion for poison,' he thought snidely, 'the lot of good it would have done if my pet hadn't taken a liking to you.'
Lynn remained silent. Years dealing with Alec's moods hadn't prepared her for force the Sea-witches anger, but it had taught her that sometimes it was better to wait bad tempers out rather than argue them down.
Sure enough, his next question was less angry and instead had a suffering tone of someone trying to explain complicating matters to a child, 'Can you at least discern where you are from your surroundings?'
Lynn took a closer look at the room she was in. It looked exactly like the illustrations she'd seen in her human history books, with cream, ornate curtains and a beautiful painted celling depicting storm clouds and stars. As she was musing, the door on the other side of the room clicked open and Lynn shuffled back against the bed's head board in fear.
But only a human girl scuttled in. The young child approached Lynn's bed side and stood on tips of her toes to see as the bed was much taller than her. She was then followed by an older human woman, dressed in brown clothes and an apron.
"Lady Leilani, your brother said not to disturb the young lady!' the woman scowled.
Lynn took in the child's big brown eyes and auburn hair, and instantly fell in love. The loss of Lynn's sisters still weighed heavily upon her heart and she held out a hand to stoke the girl's head, 'She looks a little like Iliana when we were this age.' The child's eyes widened at the gentle contact and leant her head closer into Lynn's palm.
"Well, would you look at that," the older woman gasped, putting her hands upon her hips ", the Princess actually likes you. I've never seen her take to anyone so quickly, not even me, and I've been taking care of her since she were born."
'Princess?' Lynn blinked. This child was a princess? Did that mean Lynn was in the human castle she'd read about?'
The woman approached the bed and sat down. Closer, Lynn realised she was perhaps quite old, perhaps in her mid-thirties, with dark brown hair curled tightly in a bun and laugh lines by her eyes.
"Hello my Dear" she said, smiling, "My name is Katrina." She patted Lynn's head much like how Lynn had patted the child's and placed a palm over her forehead. "You're looking much better now. The doctor was here just a while ago, how are you feeling?"
Lynn blinked vacantly at her, saying nothing. The Sea-witch was just as silent in her mind.
The woman Katrina frowned, "hmm, I best get his Highness. He was most insistent on being told when you wake. Maybe you'll speak to him." She stood and took the little girl's hand "Come along now Lady Leilani."
But Leilani wasn't going anywhere, the little girl was attempting to scramble unto the bed. At one point, she looked like she was going to fall and Lynn reached out to help her up lest she did.
Once on the bed, Leilani sat by Lynn's side and began fiddling with her long black hair. So Katrina shook her head and left the room, presumably looking for 'His Highness'.
Lynn stared after the woman for a time, then returned to patting Leilani's head absentmindedly. 'What was that?'
'That Princess, was your first social interaction as a human,' the sea-witch said with a strange joviality. "And might I say, congratulations for fucking it up.'
'I…I didn't mean to,' Lynn projected hopelessly. 'She was just so…it just happened too quickly, I wasn't ready. And anyway, why do you even care?' she frowned angrily 'Why are you even in my mind? Your part in this is finished, and I doubt you care one wit for my safety.'
'You're right' the witch remarked, 'but in case you haven't noticed, not a lot goes on in the outland and seeing you mess up is hilariously entertaining for me.'
Lynn was starting to really dislike the Sea-Witch. 'I'll do better next time' she vowed, 'besides, I can't have done that bad,' she smiled down at the little girl in her lap, 'Leilani seems to like me'.
'The human world is made of more than just children Crow Princess' the sea-witch stated scornfully.
Before Lynn could retaliate, another human entered the room and all previous thoughts flew from her mind.
It was him. Her Prince. Even though it been days since she'd last seen him, Lynn felt as if it only been yesterday.
"Hey" he said, beaming. The sight of his smile finally directed at her, set Lynn's heart skittering.